Friday, 12 July 2013

From the shore to the summit and from the "Moss" to the "Tree" on La Reunion island

We, Lolita and Lisa, conducted complementary studies on the eastern side of  Piton des Neiges in the National Park of La Réunion. Our hypotheses were built up on the data set from their first inventory in 2008. In the frame of our two master studies we, both, try to find explanations about the distribution of the plant species they found and therefore visited the plots together. However, our thesis are based on two different perspectives in ecology.

Lolita focuses on the large scale distribution of the three major plant groups (Bryophytes, Pteridophytes and Angiosperms) and investigates the effect of water use efficiency on their altitudinal distribution in La Réunion for her master at the University of Zürich.  

Lisa is doing her master thesis (Paris 6) on ecological factors affecting the vertical distribution of corticolous (=bark living organisms) bryophytes along an elevational gradient.  The hypothesis is that bryophytes have specific microhabitat determined by various abiotic factors (temperature, interception of sunlight and exposure of the area) and biotic (bark rugosity, tree species). Under the guidance of Claudine Ah-Peng we spent 14 days in the field from mid May to mid June 2013. It was a learning journey, discovering La Réunion in a deeper manner. We had a closer look on plant diversity and on plant distribution along an elevational gradient. Each altitude has its own characteristics, not only concerning the species composition but also vegetation structure.

 We stayed at Gite de la Bélouve few nights and at La Caverne Dufour for a couple of nights. Also, we climbed up the Piton des Neiges (3070 m) for our work as the highest plot is at 2950 m!

Lolita Ammann:

Liverworts, mosses, ferns and angiosperms have their diversity maxima at different elevations. The older the stem group, the higher lies its diversity maximum on the elevational gradient. In this study I test how much this pattern is determined by water use efficiency by making up three hypothesis:
-Water use efficiency should become higher in lower elevations considering the decrease in water availability towards lower elevations,
- Comparing humid and arid sides of mountains, the decrease of overall diversity on the arid side is more pronounced for groups with lower water use efficiency, 
On the sentier de la Rivière, Bélouve forest

- Comparing humid and arid sides of mountains, diversity patterns of the major plant groups are shifted upwards on the arid side because of higher cloud condensation levels and the increasing importance of low temperatures in determining environmental humidity.

Three approaches/methodologies should help me to assess the questions: for carbon isotope ratio (δ13C), samples of the 5 most representatives of the three stem groups are collected for both terricolous and epiphytic habitats, LICOR 6400 (gas exchange measurements, i.e., uptake of CO2 and release of water) these tests will be conducted in controlled greenhouse conditions, so collected plants needed to be transferred alive to Zürich, and finally comparison of the diversity pattern of fern and angiosperm species between the western and eastern transect.

Lisa Margot Couet:

We are currently aware that landscape feature creates microclimate. Therefore, we can suppose that bryophytes, being small organisms and living in a wide range of substrat have particular microhabitats. As any plants, bryophyte species have different light and temperature requirements. My work  focuses on factors affecting the corticolous microhabitats for bryophytes.
The hypothesis is that there is a smaller scale distribution and assemblage of species along the phorophyte.
Lisa measuring the temperature of the moss colony
In the field, I recorded data on three or four species of bryophytes at each altitude. We chose 15 trees per altitude which hosted at least one of the species studied and represented well the ecosystem. For each tree, I measured the size (length, width, thickness) of each colony, the temperature and the sunlight intercepted in each of the 3 microhabitats (0-0,5m; 0,5-1 m; 1-2 meters). I also recorded the tree species and their morphology (DBH, Height, Bark rugosity) in order to evaluate the influence of the substrat on the distribution.  
The leafy liverwort, Mastigophora diclados

I collected data for the following species: Mastigophora diclados (Brid. ex F.Weber) Nees), Pyrrhobryum spiniforme (Hedw.) Mitt., Dicranoloma billardierei (Brid.) Paris, Pleurozia gigantea (F. Weber) Lindb., Holomitrium borbonicum Besch., Herbertus dicranus (Taylor ex Gottsche, Lindenb. & Nees) Trevis., Leucophanes angustifolium (Renauld & Cardot ) and the two gender Bazzania and Radula.

   Describing ecological niches of corticolous bryophytes is a particular matter as some are referred as biological indicators. Knowing if a species is a generalist or a specialist across ecosystem can help to investigate on the impact of climate change at different scales. Also, as a complementary on bryophyte niches, I investigated the assemblage of a few common species and their distribution along the elevational gradient.

We had a great time exploring the montane tropical forests. Local botanists and ecologists who are involved in project within the park came to give us a hand in the field for the collection and the identification of plants. Furthermore, we were part of the team to set up the new transect in the Western side, at La Forêt des Makes, where sensors of temperature and relative humidity were set up every 200 m from 1150 to 2350 m. Many thanks to Jacques, Pierre, Olivier, Dominique S, Dominique H and in particularly Claudine Ah-Peng who take us in the field and take care of the organization of the field work.

Lolita, Lisa and Dominique H, Takamaka viewpoint

From left to right, Lisa, Claudine, Jacques and Lolita, 7th of June 2013, Bélouve forest

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